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By Kerrie Wilcox (Canadian Leader, Project FeederWatch) and James Casey (Fraser Estuary Specialist), Birds Canada

This winter, we have witnessed an irruption of Pine Siskins in much of North America. Bird experts believe that a shortage of conifer seeds in the Boreal Forest of northern Canada has forced these birds to come south in record numbers looking for food. Pine Siskins have been seen at feeders in unusually high numbers. Unfortunately, an outbreak of salmonella has been reported among Pine Siskins visiting feeders, but those who feed birds can help stop the spread by taking immediate action.

Pine Siskin Photo: Jim McCabe

Salmonellosis is caused by a bacteria and is a common cause of illness in feeder birds.  The birds may appear fluffed up or thin. They may have swollen eyelids. They are usually easy to approach and appear lethargic. Salmonella is primarily transmitted through droppings in food and water left by sick birds or by direct bird-to-bird contact. Occasionally, outbreaks can cause significant mortality in certain species including Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, and American Goldfinches. 

Keeping your feeder birds healthy – Tips from Birds Canada

In winter, finding food and water in snowy weather and frigid temperatures can be challenging for birds. Setting up a bird feeder or bird bath makes their lives easier and ours more enjoyable. Birds can become ill, however, from leftover bits of seeds and hulls that have become moldy or from droppings that have accumulated on and around feeders. Fluffed-up feathers, lethargy, abnormal growths, and crusty eyes are all symptoms of avian illnesses such as salmonella, trichomoniasis, avian pox, and eye disease. You can help prevent illnesses at your feeder and stop the spread.

Follow these simple steps in order to create a safer environment for your birds:

  • Clean feeders and birdbaths. Every two weeks, scrub and soak feeders with 10% chlorine bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Rinse feeders thoroughly and allow to completely dry before refilling. Only use feeders that are easy to clean.
  • Clean the ground under feeders. Regularly rake and discard bird food and droppings under feeders as they can become moldy or spoiled.
  • Move your feeders around. Regularly change your feeder placement to limit the concentration of droppings and seed wastes.
  • Temporarily remove feeders. Take down your feeders for two weeks if a sick bird appears at your feeder or if an outbreak has been reported close to you.
  • Consider using feeders that do not allow the birds to stand in their food. Droppings are more likely to come into contact with food on open trays and platform feeders.
  • Always discard any seed that has become wet. Harmful molds can grow on wet seeds.

For more information about bird diseases and what to do if you see a sick bird at your feeder, visit

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative encourages you to contact their CWHC regional centre in your area to report sick or dead birds and wildlife. For more information visit:

Pine Siskin at Feeder
Pine Siskin Photo: Jim McCabe

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